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What Makes Dive Bars Great

Ken Friedman in a Dive Bar

It’s good if the place looks a bit beat-up. The outside doesn’t matter that much. Peanut shells or sawdust all over the floor is always a good sign. It’s a real dive bar if the owners haven’t bothered to keep up with the times. Chez Jay, in Santa Monica, is amazing. So is the Frolic Room (323/462-5890), on Hollywood and Vine.

It’s all about access to great stories: you want people there who have them. I love waterfront bars, like the Liar’s Saloon (631/668-9597), in Montauk, New York. Same guys sitting on the same stool for decades. These guys know the real story of Jaws, the guy who caught that shark. There’s something about having a salty old guy or woman behind the bar doing shots with customers.

There must be a jukebox. Bonus if there’s nothing in it from after 1970. If I’m in a good mood,I’m going for a Rolling Stones or a Beatles song. If I’m pissed off, something by Johnny Cash would be good, and if they don’t have it, I’d suggest they get it. You can do that in a dive bar.

The best dive bar isyour home away from home. It’s a place where you almost never hear the word no. You’re going to hear a lot of yes. Sure, you can sit there. Sure, you can pull up another chair. Sure, you can get another round. Sure, we have food. Sure, you can stay here all day and all night. —As told to Howie Kahn

Ken Friedman, co-owner of New York’s Spotted Pig and Rusty Knot, recently restored the legendary Tosca Cafe, in San Francisco.

Related Links:
America’s Best College Bars
America’s Best Outdoor Bars
Best L.A. Bars for Celebrity Spotting

Photo by Mackenzie Stroh

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